Issue 302 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I purchased two gift subscriptions for friends this past Christmas. How sad that, in the January 2001 issue, the second sentence of Gail Grenier Sweet’s interview with Ralph Bronner [“Next to Godliness”] has a glaring typo. It’s not what I wanted their first impression to be. I’m sure you feel the same.

Carolyn Koesters Cleveland, Ohio
The Sun responds:

We, too, were appalled to discover the typo. The error wasn’t the result of careless proofreading on our part. It turns out that new printing technology being used by our printer in Wisconsin can produce mysterious glitches — even when the computer file we send them is correct. Now that we know such errors can occur, we’ve taken steps to avoid them in the future.

— Ed.

After reading Alex Molnar’s comments [“Invasion of the Classroom,” interview by Derrick Jensen, November 2000], I could not help but mentally compare the corporate invasion of the classroom to the educational techniques used in communist societies. In either case, children are taught not to think for themselves, but to think the way the ideologues (capitalist or communist) have programmed them.

Winston Churchill once said, “Events are in the saddle and riding mankind.” Right now, corporations are buying their way into the saddle and riding our educational system for all it is worth — which, evidently, is quite a lot to them. I hope more of us will speak out against this insidious invasion before it is too late.

Burk Ketcham Tacoma, Washington

Nine years ago, I cut John Taylor Gatto’s article “I Quit, I Think” out of the Wall Street Journal. At the time, I was studying education at the Rudolf Steiner College because I felt that the Waldorf schools offered the best possible alternative to the many educational limitations and lies I had experienced in my own schooling. I wanted to believe that I could make a difference somehow.

That short article stayed in my journal for nearly a decade, through two children and several new careers, continuing to remind me that there are alternatives even to the alternatives.

How lovely, then, to find it reprinted as part of Gatto’s “Hector Isn’t the Problem” [November 2000]. I thank him for discussing the real import of our deadly educational system, and for reminding me, as I start looking for yet another new life in this rootless country, that I can choose my destiny despite how my record defines me. His advice to Hector was all I needed to begin the hard climb back to the confidence I had before I was “mainstreamed” and “downsized.”

Leslie de Vries Sacramento, California
John Taylor Gatto responds:

Mary Heiberger is right about one thing: I’m not the answer, and I should be shot if you ever catch me claiming that I am. Gurus are genuinely dangerous, particularly those official experts and specialists who use phony medical metaphors like “learning disability” to justify their service to the corporate state.

I knew an army of parents whose children were diagnosed with learning disabilities and expertly tutored, but nary a one who was transformed by the experience. I must have known 150 Ritalin junkies shot full of speed by school employees — for their own good, of course. And yet not even there could I discern a transformation, except a hellish one.

Heiberger did a lot of misreading, but her most egregious error is the accusation that Hector threatened schoolchildren with a realistic-looking gun. He threatened the school administrator. If it had been just some other kids, it wouldn’t have bothered the principal nearly as much.

To Leslie de Vries: Chin up and keep your powder dry. Spit on any official record that purports to define you. They are overwhelmingly political, not scientific. And I see you gave yourself the same advice; you didn’t need me to sign off on your good sense.

When I received my first issue of The Sun, I felt both a deep connection and great aversion to its contents. I canceled my subscription without much thought. I even disposed of the magazine. (I’m usually a pack rat.)

Then I unexpectedly received the November 2000 issue. Funny how sometimes what you want most can also be what you go to the greatest lengths to avoid. This time, I let myself identify with the grief of which the authors wrote. I celebrated the fact that there was actually a magazine not afraid to be “too sad,” as Sy Safransky wrote in the Holiday Offer.

I lived for twenty-some years in a physically, verbally, and sexually abusive household. There is a grieving process that follows such an experience. I often have to fight off bitterness when I feel alone. My second issue of The Sun showed me that, although it is not talked about much, grief is universal.

J. Lin Tucson, Arizona

As someone who has suffered from a difficult relationship with food and body image for the last eighteen years, I devoured Sallie Tisdale’s “Mean Cuisine” [October 2000]. I, too, dislike the fact that so many of us are dieting, but I disagree that we shouldn’t have to “supervise” our eating. In modern society, we are no longer required to till the land ourselves or chase down a buffalo for meat. We can now eat however much we want. Isn’t it up to us to regulate our intake?

Because I don’t allow myself to eat everything I want all day long, I guess I am dieting by Tisdale’s definition, but I don’t see it that way. I do have to tell myself to stop after two pieces of pizza, even though I’m not full. I maintain a normal weight for my height by controlling my intake. Tisdale says, “Denial is what some women have come to desire most.” I don’t “desire denial.” I do desire a body that can take me hiking or scuba diving, a body that will give me longevity.

I think that the women who ordered dessert and took only a bite have a sane relationship with food. They are tasting the restaurant’s fare, but not filling their bodies with sugar and saturated fat. Maybe some of them wanted more, but I doubt any of them wanted to deny themselves.

Poppy Englehardt Santa Monica, California
Sallie Tisdale responds:

I don’t believe that regulating how much we eat is dieting. The best way to eat is to notice what we want to eat and need to eat, and to stop when we’re satisfied. The research I describe defines exactly the opposite: an inability to regulate at all, caused partly by overregulating.

Many Americans now have no idea what their bodies desire or need in terms of food, and they commonly both over- and undereat. This has been shown dramatically in controlled experiments and is visible to all of us as we look at ourselves and each other: we are obese, we are anorexic, and we hate ourselves.

I think letting go of my obsessive dieting was the healthiest thing I’ve ever done. I did gain some weight, and remain about 15 percent above my “ideal” weight. I, too, am a hiker and a scuba diver. When I look at the pictures of myself thin, I see physical fragility, self-absorption, the smallness of it all.

Finally, if Englehardt could see the bony-legged, sunken-cheeked women with whom I had dinner — and especially the avid desire on their faces as they proudly resisted their rich desserts — she would recognize all the worst facets of dieting. It is a venal preoccupation indulged in by the prosperous. Really hungry people, needless to say, don’t throw away food. And really healthy people don’t make a point of doing so.

I was moved by Michelle Cacho-Negrete’s “In the Lions’ Den” [October 2000]. I would like to point out, however, that her essay perpetuates the myth that spousal abuse is equivalent to wife abuse. Every domestic-violence survey conducted in the U.S., Canada, England, New Zealand, and Australia since 1975 has found that either women and men batter each other about equally, or women batter men more. In addition, almost all studies found that women were more likely to initiate violence and much more likely to inflict severe violence.

Indeed, we live in a violent society. I wish it were otherwise. But by publishing this essay, The Sun’s editors, whose intentions I regard as the most noble in journalism today, are contributing to a distorted view of what’s really going on.

Paul Potyen Pacifica, California
Michelle Cacho-Negrete responds:

Increased public awareness of domestic violence is always a good thing, and it’s true that anyone can be a perpetrator or a victim, or both. Unfortunately, some well-meaning individuals and institutions have expanded this realization into a myth of gender symmetry: that men and women are equally perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. This notion promotes the mistaken view that violence committed by husbands and boyfriends against their female partners deserves neither special attention nor condemnation.

Despite Potyen’s statement, there is extensive statistical evidence that violence committed by men against women is far and away the most prevalent form of domestic violence. But there is no need to rely solely on statistics. Read your local newspaper. Ask any emergency-room worker or police officer about what he or she sees on a daily basis. Ask yourself about your family and neighbors. Gender symmetry is a myth — one almost as dangerous as the domestic violence that it serves to minimize and deny.

John Gatto apparently has no problem with the fact that his protégé Hector fails every course he takes, threatens elementary-school children with a realistic-looking gun, and doesn’t obey rules unless they appeal to him. Gatto also says that, in thirty years of teaching, he “almost never met a learning-disabled child.”

Perhaps this is because he expressed his contempt for academics by simply not teaching his students. Sure, a child with learning disabilities can do a great job of running a food co-op or volunteering, and such activities are worthwhile. But they don’t obviate the need for teachers to hunker down to the hard, less-than-glamorous work of teaching children what parents want them to learn.

Learning disabilities aren’t real? Ask the parent of a child whose life was transformed when a learning disability was diagnosed and the child got expert tutoring, making it possible for him or her to learn things heretofore incomprehensible. No, Hector isn’t the problem. But neither is Gatto the answer.

Mary Heiberger Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Free Trial Issue Are you ready for a closer look at The Sun?

Request a free trial, and we’ll mail you a print copy of this month’s issue. Plus you’ll get full online access — including 50 years of archives.
Request A Free Issue